Home Back Issues July/August 2013 Oregon's nanotech industry: Can small be large?

Oregon's nanotech industry: Can small be large?

| Print |  Email
Articles - July/August 2013
Monday, July 08, 2013
Article Index
Oregon's nanotech industry: Can small be large?
The Scientist
The Investor
The Entrepreneurs

The Scientist

0713 Nano 02In general, tenure-track professors are obsessed with the number of papers they publish. Traditionally, it’s the best path to getting the prized tenure contract.

Not in the Goforth lab, a small space in a nondescript building on the Portland State University campus where Andrea Goforth, an inorganic chemist, and her team of postgraduate students do their work. Hired by PSU as a junior professor at a time when federal grant money hasn’t kept pace with demand, Goforth isn’t as focused on churning out papers as might be expected. Instead she’s been able to follow her two current research passions: biomedical imaging agents at the nanoscale and the novel properties of the chemical element bismuth, the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol.

Although they seem disparate, Goforth’s two enthusiasms actually feed each other. Goforth, 34, has a patent on her discoveries regarding how tiny bismuth particles, which are radiopaque — visible on X-ray — may also be easier on the human body than barium and suitable for use in medical devices.

What is also novel about Goforth’s discovery is how quickly she’s turned it into a product idea — add-ins to surgical sponges — and parlayed the idea into a company called Hawthorne Materials Corp.

“It’s not typical of chemists in an academic environment to be thinking so much about commercialization,” Goforth admits. “With federal funding as low as it has been, though…academic institutions stubbornly stuck on getting Fed money are starting to realize we need to collaborate locally.”

Goforth has done that — she heaped praise on ONAMI for connecting her to electron microscopes integral to her research. In addition to the enthusiastic engagement of her postgraduate student Anna Brown, the university’s MBA students and technology transfer office helped Goforth zero in on market potential and appropriate products to be created from the radiopaque bismuth particles. Toxicity testing of the “Bismarkers,” as they are currently called, is proceeding.

Goforth says her partners know marketing Bismarkers will never be of higher priority to her than doing basic nanoscience. Yet she’s also clear that pursuing new commercialization possibilities, is, in a sense, a part of her job, much like teaching the next generation of scientists and publishing her research findings. As a transplanted Tennessean, she loves Portland and hopes that Oregon can develop its research in nanotech into some kind of cluster or hub.

“Relative to Seattle’s prominence, nanobiotech might be a bit more difficult to cultivate,” she says. “With Intel here, nano in device integration is more likely. Maybe we could be the happy middle ground and develop a bit of a hub for both.”

Goforth’s partner, Brown, always thought she would be academically bound. Now nanotechnology and the bismuth research are changing her trajectory.

“The world doesn’t need more professors,” she says. “I’m hoping instead I can translate that high-risk, high-reward startup mentality of the software industry to nanomaterials. That feels like a career calling.”

What’s good for her could also be good for Oregon. “Maybe there’s no way we’ll compete with Silicon Valley,” says Brown. “But anchoring a nanomaterials industry into the Pacific Northwest? From my little bit of experience with the Oregon Angel Fund, that seems to be what investors are getting excited about.”



 

More Articles

Portland rises

News
Monday, August 18, 2014

IMG 2551Portland is in the middle of another construction boom, with residential and office projects springing up downtown, in the Pearl and Old Town. OB Web Editor Jessica Ridgway documents the new wave.


Read more...

Who said we should sell in May?

Contributed Blogs
Friday, July 18, 2014
BullMarketBY JASON NORRIS | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

Back in May, we shared a common Wall Street quote about investing, “Sell in May and go away.” Fast forward to July and the most common question we have been getting from clients is, “When is the market pullback going to occur?”


Read more...

Register for 100 Best Companies survey

News
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
OBM-100-best-logo-2015 150pxwBy Kim Moore | OB Editor

The 2015 survey launched this week. It is open to for-profit private and public companies that have at least 15 full- or part-time employees in Oregon.


Read more...

Updated: Disrupting innovation

News
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
070814 thumb disputive-innovationBY LINDA BAKER  | OB EDITOR

The New Yorker recently published a sharply worded critique of “disruptive innovation,” one of the most widely cited theories in the business world today. The article raises questions about the descriptive value of disruption and innovation  — whether the terms are mere buzzwords or actually explain today's extraordinarily complex and fast changing business environment. 

Update: We caught up with Portland's Thomas Thurston, who shared his data driven take on the disruption controversy.


Read more...

Trends in business succession

News
Thursday, July 03, 2014
TrendsBY TED AUSTIN & MIKE BAELE | GUEST CONTRIBUTORS

The Office of Economic Analysis announced that Oregon is currently enjoying the strongest job growth since 2006. While this resurgence has been welcome, the lingering effects of the 2008 “Great Recession” continues to affect Oregon businesses, especially with regard to estate planning and business succession.


Read more...

The Scott Kveton affair

News
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
ScottKvetonBY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

Scott Kveton, the CEO of Urban Airship is taking a leave of absence from the company. As the story continues to unfold, here’s our perspective on a few of the key players.


Read more...

Interview: Dr. Mark Goulston

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, July 10, 2014
JustListenBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

Tom Cox interviews Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen, Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS